Expanding the Tiki Lexicon – Coffee flavor in Falernum?

One day as Jason Alexander and I were doing our usual Facebook chatting about all topics rum and Tiki, we were both lamenting that with 70 years of history and a well-established set of ingredients, it can be difficult to really innovate in the Tiki space. Sure it’s fun to make classics and tweak things with latest rums, spices and syrups, but sometimes you just want a new flavor “toy”.

Falernum is a canonical Tiki ingredient and it’s a grab bag of flavors – Clove, lime, ginger, and almond are the basics, plus lord knows what else people add to their homemade concoctions. Yes, falernum seems like a ripe place to introduce a new flavor element. I’ve long thought that the flavor of coffee fits well within the flavor profiles of other Tiki ingredients – strong and spicy. Think allspice dram, cinnamon syrup, vanilla, and so forth. While coffee flavors occasionally show up in Tiki recipes, those recipes are relatively rare in the canon of Tiki recipes.

Although it might seem odd at first, adding coffee flavor to the falernum stew makes sense. All the traditional falernum ingredients, as well as coffee are found in the Caribbean; Jamaica is famous for its Blue Mountain coffee beans. And while coffee is a strong flavor that might ordinarily dominate some infusions, clove, ginger and lime are no slackers in the strong flavor category either. With that in mind, Jason and I decided to try making a falernum with coffee and immediately realized we had different ideas about to achieve it.

In the context of Tiki and syrups, coffee is unusual in that its flavor essence is easily extracted by water, and we have a long history of doing so. This was the approach Jason thought of – Make a strong espresso and mix it with sugar to make a strong coffee syrup that’s then added to the infused rum component in place of the normal 2:1 simple syrup. My thought was to treat the coffee like the clove, ginger and lime peels – grind it and add it to the rum base to let the alcohol do the flavor extraction.

As I write this, Jason has his Coffee-Falernum ready and has been using it at the Tacoma Cabana. My rum infusion is still brewing, and tomorrow I’ll finish it off before taking it down to Tacoma where Jason and I will compare/contrast the flavor. If either or both of them pass muster, I’ll update this post with the results and recipes.

Update – 6/8/14

Jason and I tasted the falernums down at Tacoma Cabana last night. We both agreed that Jason’s turned out a little bitter, but this wasn’t due to the coffee itself. We both attributed it to the lime peel, with backing evidence from Jason’s normal falernum. When he made his coffee falernum, he simply set aside a small amount of the rum brew to mix with the espresso syrup. Jason’s going to continue experimenting with his method however.

I was pretty happy with my falernum, although the coffee element was stronger than I’d hoped for. About 2 seconds after adding the coffee to the rum brew I wished I’d added less ground coffee. Nonetheless, the final result showed promise. You get the coffee taste up front for a few seconds but it then rapidly segues to the traditional falernum flavors (lime, ginger, clove). In my recipe below I’ve reduced the amount of ground coffee to bring down the initial coffee flavor dominance.

Coffee-falernum

  • 40 whole cloves
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup fresh ground coffee
  • 8 oz Wray & Nephew White Overproof rum
  • Zest of 5 small limes (reduce if bigger limes)
  • 3/4 oz sliced raw ginger
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup water

Crush the cloves, then toast the cloves and almonds on a cookie sheet or aluminum foil in an oven at 325 degrees for ~5 minutes.

Let cloves/almonds cool before adding them and the ground coffee to the rum in a sealable jar to form a brew. Let sit for 24 hours.

Add the lime and ginger to the brew. Let sit for another 24 hours.

Prepare the 2:1 simple syrup with the sugar and water.

Strain the rum brew through cheesecloth or other fine filter into the simple syrup. Stir well.

After the taste testing, Jason made two Castaways, one with his falernum, the other with mine. The one using mine was quite tasty – I’ll be making that one at home.

Castaway (Coffee Falernum Version)

  • 3oz Pineapple juice
  • .75oz Coffee-falernum
  • 1.5oz Plantation 5 (or other gold Barbados rum)

Shake over ice, pour into tall glass

The Essential Arsenal of Tiki Rums

When I first fell down the Tiki rabbit hole, working my way through Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari, I realized how little I knew about rums. Demerara, Jamaican, Lemon Hart, Virgin Island, Trinidad, Wray and Nephew… So many names and styles to keep track of and start acquiring! Since then my rum collection’s grown far beyond the space I set aside when designing my home bar.

By this point I’ve made enough Tiki recipes to have a good sense of what I keep coming back to over and over in my Tiki drinks. These are the bottles that I always have a backup bottle or two in reserve. Most of these rums aren’t traditionally considered “sipping” rums, so just because a superb rum like Mount Gay X0 isn’t on this list doesn’t mean I don’t consider enjoy it.

This list isn’t intended to be comprehensive and cover every rum style used in Tiki. The list is also constrained by brands available to me in the United States, which is often much different than what’s available elsewhere, especially with the more boutique brands.

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Classic and Modern Tiki and Recipes from the Tacoma Cabana

The Seattle area hasn’t had a true authentic full-time Tiki bar for several years, despite being the location of the first franchised Trader Vics in the 1940s. There was a Trader Vic’s in Bellevue a few years back but they shuttered after a few years. Hula Hula positions themselves as Polynesian, but they’re far from well-crafted Tiki. Rumba specializes in all sorts of rum drinks and does Tiki well, but Tiki isn’t their focus. Portland is known for its Tiki Kon gathering and the Hale Pele bar is well respected in the Tiki world. But if you’re looking for full time, petal-to-the-metal Tiki in the Pacific Northwest, the Tacoma Cabana is your destination.

UPDATE: As of 2018, the Tiki heart of the Cabana now lives at Devil’s Reef.

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Tiki Improv Fundamentals – Don’t Fear the Recipe

I realize that what follows may be heretical in Tiki circles. It might go against 80 years of Tiki lore, secret recipe books, and exotic rums as described by Beachbum Berry in his book, Sippin’Safari. But, the simple truth is that a tasty Tiki libation isn’t hard to improvise if you know the basic pattern and have a reasonable set of ingredients on hand.

Let me be completely clear up front – I’m an avid collector of tiki recipes, and with 50+ different rums and many exotic syrups in my collection, you’d be hard pressed to find a recipe that I couldn’t fashion reasonably well with what I have on hand. I firmly believe that a tiki drink should be as authentic and well constructed as possible and I regularly consult many recipes in my extensive notebook.  However, you shouldn’t feel constrained to slavishly implementing existing recipes, or worse, not making a drink at all because you don’t have every ingredient the recipe calls for.

Think of tiki as a rich framework for improvisation – Discovering new flavor combinations that work well together. Using the following guidelines you can easily come up with your creation or a spin on an existing classic.

Matt’s Rules of Tiki

1) Tiki drinks should have rum. The flavor of the rum, not just the alcohol burn, should be easily discernible. If the rest of your ingredients cover up the rum’s true character, you’re doing it wrong. When picking your rum(s), do your best to use something close to the flavor profile, but truthfully you can get great results with a mid-tier rum like these:

2) Tiki drinks have lime juice. You might find a few that use lemon, but without one or the other it’s not really tiki.

3) Tiki drinks may have other fruit juices, but it’s not required. The most common juices found in tiki are pineapple, grapefruit and orange juice. Personally I shy away from OJ in my tiki as it just feels too cliché.

4) Tiki drinks will have one or more sweet, strongly flavored syrups or liqueurs which may or may not be alcoholic. Commonly used syrups include;

  • Orgeat (Almond)
  • Cinnamon syrup
  • Passion fruit syrup
  • Honey syrup
  • Vanilla syrup
Commonly used sweet liqueurs include:
  • Orange Liqueur (Triple Sec, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, etc…)
  • Cherry Liqueur (e.g. Cherry Heering)
  • Falernum (lime, clove essence – Non-alcoholic versions exists as well)

4) Tiki drinks should not overly sweet. It’s easy to throw a bunch of syrups and sweet liqueurs into a drink and end up with an overly sweet mess with a muddled flavor. Don’t do this.

5) Tiki drinks may use bitter spirits sparingly. Examples include:

  • Angostura bitters
  • Allspice/Pimento dram (Very pungent allspice flavor, not very sweet)
  • Pernod or other anise flavored spirits

6) Tiki drinks are traditionally served over crushed ice. If you don’t have an ice crusher, use a mallet, a kitchen towel, or whatever gets the job done.

7) An over the top garnish is always a crowd pleaser. Hollow out a pineapple,use it as a mug, and you’re a Tiki god! (Or so the drink recipient believes.)

The key element of creating your own Tiki recipes is balance. You should be able to taste every ingredient to some degree. Don’t cover up the flavor of the rum. Ensure there’s some tartness from the lime juice. Don’t throw so many flavors in that you can’t discern what’s what anymore.

One area where I diverge from accepted tiki wisdom is going with 3 or more rums in a drink. Yes, it sounds awesome (“Four overproof rums – YEAAAH!!!”), but unless you have an amazing palate you’re not going to discern the distinct flavors of each rum. For that reason I tend towards using just one or two rums – A strong Jamaican like Smith & Cross by itself, or in combination with an Agricole style are particular favorites of mine.

Starting from the ingredient palette above, the next part is honing the exact amount of each ingredient. Here’s some suggestions:

  • Between 2 and 4 ounces of rum, depending on the quantity of other ingredients.
  • Between .5 and 1 oz of lime juice, depending on how much sweet you add.
  • If using other fruit juices, an ounce is a good starting point.
  • Between .5 oz and 1.5 oz of syrup and/or sweet liqueur. If you go with a lot of sweet, bump up the lime juice to compensate.
  • If using a strong bitter flavor such as allspice dram, go easy on it. I typically use 1/8 to ¼ oz. For angostura bitters, 2-4 dashes is usually plenty.
  • Using falernum requires thought to maintain balance as there are different falernum styles. Homemade falernum has sugar, but the lime and ginger pull it towards the bitter side in my opinion. Non-alcoholic falernum syrup and Velvet Falernum leans towards the sweet side of things..
 Now let’s look at a few cocktail recipes and see if and how they conform to the tiki template:

Trader Vics 1944 Mai Tai

  • 2 oz. 17-year old J. Wray & Nephew Rum
  • Juice from one fresh lime
  • 1/2 oz. orange curacao
  • 1/4 oz. rock candy syrup
  • 1/2 oz. orgeat syrup

This is classic tiki at its finest, albeit very simple. Note there’s no fruit juice beyond the lime, and no bitter flavor components. There are three sweeteners, but a whole lime provides a lot of tart to compensate. As for the Wray and Nephew 17, good luck finding that. As mentioned earlier, you have a lot of latitude with rums. For a proper Mai Tai I’d sub in another fine Jamaican style rum – The funkier the better.

The “Mai Tai” at nearly any island hotel bar

  • 3 oz Bacardi silver
  • 3 oz OJ
  • 2 oz Grenadine
This is tiki purgatory. No lime juice – What the hell??? Rum with no discernable flavor. No balance. A sugar bomb.  The tiki gods will hunt you down if you order this.

 Jet Pilot

  • 1 oz Jamaican rum
  • 0.75 oz gold Puerto Rican rum
  • 0.75 oz Lemon Hart 151
  • 0.5 oz lime juice
  • 0.5 oz grapefruit juice
  • 0.5 oz cinnamon syrup
  • 0.5 oz falernum
  • Dash Angostura bitters
  • 6 drops Pernod
This is a personal tiki favorite and a great example of my guidelines.  It utilizes something from each ingredient category: Plenty of flavorful rum, lime juice, fruit juice, flavored syrups, liqueurs, and multiple bitters.

Daiquiri

  • 2 oz rum
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 1 oz simple syrup
While a delightful drink and a great basis for improvisation, the daiquiri isn’t a tiki drink by most standards. Rum and lime, sure. But no flavored syrups/liqueurs, no other fruit juices, and no bitters. The daiquiri is too simple to be tiki. I call it a “tropical” drink instead.

Pina Colada

  • 2 1/2 ounces golden rum
  • 3 ounces pineapple juice
  • 1 ounce coconut cream
The Pina Colada is one of the first drinks I made when I came of age. I genuinely enjoy them, but they’re not tiki by the definition above. There’s no tart citrus of any form. Also, they’re traditionally blended, which goes against the crushed ice guideline. Like the daiquiri, I put this in the tropical category.

 Go forth and Improvise!

Starting from the tiki guidelines, it’s fun to try out new things – break a rule or two along the way. One of my favorites is to substitute in mezcal for the rum. Another is to experiment with introducing flavored amaros like Fernet or Campari. Leave comments with your own ideas!